Protein in skin cells fights off, destroys HIV: Amsterdam research

A scanning electron microscopic image of HIV-1 virions (in green) budding from a cultured lymphocyte. Jan. 1, 1984. (image: CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus)

A protein in a type of skin cell was found to prevent the HIV virus from entering the human body during sexual contact, researchers at Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre discovered. The TRIM5alpha protein in a type of cell called Langerhans Cells helps restrict HIV-1 transmission in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, the research shows.

The discovery could determine why some are more susceptible to HIV than others, AMC said in a statement. Genetic differences in people could make it harder for the protein to block, and shred the virus.

Two of the authors, lead author Dr. Carla Ribeiro and prof. Teunis Geijtenbeek, believe this could lead to a new form of treatment where other cells in the body are used to destroy the HIV virus. This is because the TRIM5alpha protein is present in all cells, but only in Langerhans cells does it fight off HIV.

The researchers say they are already able to turn on this process in other cells, making them unsusceptible to HIV, the AMC stated.

The research was published in prestigious journal Nature on Wednesday. All ten authors of the study are connected to the AMC. Ribeiro and seven others are from the Experimental Immunology department, with co-authors also from the Department of Cell Biology & Histology.